In the ’50s Sampaguita, Premiere, LVN and Lebran were the only movie production outfits considered as mainstream.
Except for some notable outputs, movies churned out at the time were formulaic tearjerkers, slapstick, song-and-dance capers and coarse memes of Western action flicks.
When these outfits declined in production and patronage, independent producers led by LEA Productions came into the scene capitalizing on a vision different from their predecessors. That brought out the term “independent” which meant not belonging to a cartel of major movie outfits that had monopoly of the theater circuit for the release of their films.
The same label now known as “indie” also applied among others to a different kind of filmmaking whose story content, production values, and sense of social realism were way off the mindset of their predecessors.
Arguably, the ascendance of indie producers and filmmakers helped usher the so-called “golden age” of Philippine cinema and reinforced to the present time by the burgeoning of mostly indie practitioners who are making big waves in film competitions locally and overseas.
In random recollection, local indie history ought to credit Kidlat Tahimik a.k.a. Eric De Guia as the father of indie filmmaking, although he has second thoughts of taking the title upon himself as he thinks there must be a grandfather of indie filmmaking.
The topic of who’s who in the local history of indie producing and filmmaking was the recent hot fodder taken up by some entertainment writers holding court at a donut house on Roces Avenue.
Barring other considerations, moderator Tony V. Aguilar (the only indie filmmaker so far to have won the Jury Prize at the San Francisco International Film Festival) vehemently argued not to edit out in the manner of a caveat the name of director Gil Portes from the list who on verifiable track record through much of his life thick and thin had consistently come up with critically-acclaimed indie films redolent with political and social issues: to name a few – Andrea Paano Ba Ang Maging Isang Ina?, Minsan May Pangarap: The Guce Family Story, Mulanay, and Merika which won Best Actress for Nora Aunor in the PMPC Star Awards for Movies.
Portes, who had outlived the mainstream movie industry, is a rara avis when it comes to putting his own personal vision into doing his pet projects far apart from the limiting dictates of mainstream commercial producers.
While many others failed along the way to follow in his footsteps, he has been most successful in his passion of a lifetime, so to speak, to search for producers one after another to finance his film projects and coming out as he did with highly notable quality outputs.
His current mammoth indie film project on hand billed Hermano Puli with Aljur Abrenica in the title role produced by Rex Tiri, restaurateur behind the haute dining place 77 at Scout Limbaga, is an added feather to his cap as an indie director even if he admits to it gamely as one of the three films that has come to fruition in his bucket list at age 71.
The same film was shortlisted for the Oscars Best Foreign Language Film but was sadly preempted by the official selection of Brillante Mendoza’s Ma’Rosa even before Hermano Puli could run in commercial theaters as scheduled per ruling by the local screening committee.
In retrospect, Portes has the most number of films sent to the said Oscars category. Three made it – Saranggola, Gatas, and Munting Tini, which earned the unprecedented seventh place to date in Oscars’ ranking of entries from the Philippines, aside from the fact that the same film got an impressive, unprecedented worldwide distribution.
In summation, co-moderator and PMPC President Fernand De Guzman at the donut house asked what title then ought to be bestowed upon Portes?
A ruckus coming on like babel of tongues—Better Half of Indie Films? Stepmother or Madrasta of Indie Films, etc.? ensued coming from the panelists composed of walking history of showbiz Ed de Leon, Johnny Maranan, Roel Villacorta and Joey Austria.
In the scheme of things, I wonder where to place Nick Deocampo and Raymond Red who are also names to reckon with in indie filmmaking? Are they “foundlings” then?
Oh, this crazy town so obsessed with entitlements, a good subject matter for films as well.
To my mind, history will perhaps enthrone Portes an entitlement befitting his one-man struggle then and now to prove to the great divide that despite the tide of crass commercialism and globalism, indie producing and filmmaking in this country have a long way to go and a place in a society that hungers for a more honest and elevating way of telling our own unique story as a people through cinema.
He had done it bravely his own way and still counting keenly up to his last breath.
In the meantime, I think he is most deserving of a Lifetime Achievement Award from any award-giving bodies conversant of its film history, growth and development.